Originally published for Bangalore Mirror on April 21, 2012.
Every musical note, beat and riff cohesively helps tell a story. The pace, tone and intensity of music blends to suit the style and content of the story. These are lessons one can learn only after having seen the Raghu Dixit Project be a part of a powerhouse performance at the Alchemy festival at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on Thursday night.
Collaborating with English folk artists Bellowhead and choreographer Gauri Sharma Tripathi, the evening was a presentation of a theatrical musical as much as it was a concert. Raghu Dixit’s curious melange of fusion rock meets trumpet, saxophone and a string section to become even more unclassifiable. Although a sore throat kept him from being his expressive self – as thousands of Britons experienced from his performance on television show ‘Later… with Jools Holland’ – Dixit’s band helped create a cinematic and dramatic sound.
The story they played out was the other half of the show. It was an Indian mythical love story two of the best of friends – Deva and Kush – and the one girl (Lavanya) they fell in love with. There are probably a few Bollywood films which do well to follow this formula, but the tone of this tale is mock-heroic, and managed to stay entertaining for a variety of reasons. Based on Girish Karnad’s play ‘Hayavadana’, Bellowhead vocalists sang in English about love, conflict and regret, just as the narrator laid out the plot to the audience. As the fable played itself out through the stages of friendship, marriage, death and the final fight, Tripathi and two of her dancers pulsated through the collective’s moody compositions. Everything from folkish (‘Friendship Song: Yaari’) to the downright heavy (‘Deva’s Death/Beheading’, ‘Fight’), seemed just about attuned to the themes. The main theme’s title also reflected the moral of the fable – ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’; a fairly upbeat tune, as if to say it’s okay to be wishful, but there can be no regrets. The inclusion of having bassist Gaurav Vaz rapping in ‘Finale’ humoured the audience, just as much as the tale became a summarised recap.
Parth Chandiramani, who plays flute for Raghu Dixit, seemed to be the essential link between English and Indian folk music. The guitar work by Bryden Lewis was virtuosity at its best. Indeed, the music gave much more of a mental backing to the reactions the story evoked. It was as though the music reinforced the nature and disposition of the story to the audience, bursting into an all-encompassing final song that probably aimed to make a mockery of the story, especially with Vaz’s rapping.
One of the attendees, Lesley Grzybek said she had seen musicals fused with plays, but never experienced a fusion of this kind. “For me, I came for Raghu Dixit, because I think he’s got a beautiful voice. I enjoyed the show very much, but felt it ended too soon. It seemed to be quite curtailed.”
Renata, another one of the concert-goers and fans of Raghu Dixit felt the show “was really good, but ended a little abruptly.”However, she added, “It was a lovely story that was easy to follow, sort of like a parable.”
Although there wasn’t an air of collective disappointment from the audience, one can certainly agree and say there was more to be expected than what was delivered. Raghu Dixit’s bout of laryngitis prevented the band from jamming with Bellowhead to some of their famous tunes from the back catalogue.
Barring that, there was one and a half hours of music, story-telling and dance that provoked (and responded to) the sensibilities of a hungry audience full of Indians and non-Indians alike. The level of entertainment and education provided for two consecutive nights at the Southbank Centre by Bellowhead, Gauri Sharma Tripathi and the Raghu Dixit Project seems to be the beginning of a wonderful start to cross-cultural collaborations. And best of all, a story as engrossing as this one becomes communicated in the manner of a magical celebration.